Mr. Fassbender, Do you still understand German?
Of course, it’s what my father spoke!
Do you pay the occasional visit to your native city, Heidelberg?
Sure I do! I still have folks in Heidelberg, and plus it’s a lovely city. My family moved away when I was two and I spent my childhood in Ireland. But I always came back and visited my grandparents, while they were still alive, and my uncles and aunts.
When and how did you first come into contact with Shakespeare’s Macbeth?
Meine erste Begegnung mit „Macbeth“ war im Alter von 15 Jahren, da stand es auf dem Lehrplan meiner Schule in Irland. Zum zweiten Mal beschäftigte ich mich damit auf der Schauspielschule in London. Am Ende jedes Semesters mussten wir Teile eines Dramas vorführen und wurden von den Lehrern dafür benotet.
Macbeth is about the corruptive force of power. Stars are also considered to be powerful – do you sometimes feel corrupted by fame?
Fame brings with it a certain standard of living that can be very tempting, and you can get used to it all too quickly. But I don’t see myself falling into that trap. I like the things in my life to be as simple as possible. In this line of work, it’s not a wise move to make money your sole motivation.
Great masters, like Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski, have filmed the play before. Did you draw on their work?
Yes, I watched everything on the subject that I could lay my hands on. Kurosawa’s version was grandiose, in my opinion. It’s my favorite movie adaptation.
What’s the best way for an actor to approach Shakespeare?
You have to respect the language and rhythm of Shakespeare, but not be awe-struck by it. I spent four weeks practicing on my own and knew my lines pretty well by the time general rehearsals began. For me, dialogues are like music; you basically have to get the rhythm right.
What makes this play a classic?
On the first day of shooting, the director, Justin Kurzel, handed me a self-help book on post-traumatic experiences. At first, I was surprised because I had never associated the subject with Macbeth. But it’s obvious really: That’s exactly what Macbeth is about. All that time ago, Shakespeare understood the anguish soldiers suffer.
After World War One, no one could fathom the traumatized veterans, but Shakespeare had already described their behavior in Macbeth – in the banquet sequence, when Lady Macbeth says: “Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus, And hath been from his youth.” So we know the damage anger, revenge and violence can cause. During his very first scene, we see how vulnerable Macbeth already is. Committing the murders is how he finds his way. Killing becomes a rigid pattern of behavior for him.
How do you feel about Macbeth?
I get Macbeth. He is the person keeping the borders safe. He is fighting the war for Duncan, who holds the throne, but in many ways Macbeth is the rightful king. That doesn’t justify murder, of course – and Macbeth kills every day. But he sacrifices himself and that is why I do understand him. There are a lot of Duncans in this world.
I like the things in my life to be as simple as possible
How do you see Lady Macbeth?
The classic view of Lady Macbeth is of a woman driven by ambition. The opposite is true. She sacrifices herself to save her marriage. She and her husband have lost a child but cannot share in their mourning because Macbeth is constantly on the move, busy consolidating his power. Ultimately, it’s all about loss and how people cope with it.
Shooting in the middle of a British winter can’t exactly have been a picnic …
It was cold, wet, and yes, well, very intensive! (Laughs) Raging winds, hail, snow, the works – we were constantly hoping it would at least all look good on screen! The extras, in particular, were phenomenal. They would stand in the rain for ten hours at a stretch one day, and turn up the next without turning a hair.
Is bad weather good for acting?
It lets you know exactly how it must have been for those people. They were constantly wet and half-frozen, and their homes were pretty basic. Sleeping in a wet blanket is anything but pleasant.
We get to see your naked torso again …
Yes, it’s written into my contracts. I love getting naked. (Laughs) Getting into a role is always a physical thing for me. I am not so much an intellectual or analytical actor, I’m more the physical type.
So you go in for intensive workouts?
Depending on my mood, I sometimes exercise a lot, other times not at all. Exercise is more a mental than a physical aid for me. I want to maintain a certain level of fitness obviously, but I’m not crazy about exercise machines or weights, I prefer to use my own body weight.
Could you play any role, as people say?
No, I definitely cannot play everything. Watching other actors, I often think I could never do as good a job.
What was your toughest role to date?
Hard to say. The last one, where I played Steve Jobs, was pretty challenging – I had lots of lines. (Laughs).
What is an actor’s most important asset?
The ability to be relaxed, otherwise you won’t really take in what’s going on around you. Plus, it’s the only way to be a good listener, which an actor needs to be.